Standing between the pipes for the Connecticut Whale, Chelsea Laden’s professional career began in promising fashion. Competing on the road against the Buffalo Beauts during their Strides for the Cure cancer fundraiser, Laden not only registered her first career win, she logged the first road win in Connecticut Whale franchise history.
Of note, said win also represented the second straight in franchise history. Adding to the impact was the fact that two different goaltenders were victorious, possibly providing the Whale with the league’s best goaltending tandem. Jaimie Leonoff, who also played her NCAA hockey in the state of Connecticut, with the Yale Bulldogs in New Haven, comprises the second half of this solid duo.
Emotions were very high for the Beauts, as the contest also represented fund raising for a very noble cause. Showing grace under pressue, Laden employed razor-sharp reflexes, successfully nullifying four Beauts power plays in the third period. The end result saw Laden emulate Leonoff’s accomplishment of prevailing in her NWHL debut.
“As far as my first start (and win) as a professional hockey player, it was also an incredible experience. It was so fun to play with and against some of the best known female hockey players in the game. The competition was the best I have seen and the pace was also on another level.
This game was much different than any game I played at Quinnipiac. My senior year in college I was seeing around 15 shots on average per game and our team was also the least penalized team in the nation for ALL 4 YEARS that I was playing there. My first game this year against Buffalo, I think our team had around 4 penalties in the third period alone. This game was extremely fun, competitive, physical, and an all-around great experience.”
Although it was Leonoff that got the start on October 11, the league’s opening day, it was more than just an event for all involved. Laden possibly had the best seat in the house, absorbing the historic impact, an unprecedented event in American women’s professional hockey. While Laden had to wait another week to get her start, the chance to be part of such a celebration of women’s hockey shall provide a lifetime of memories for all involved.
“Dressing for my first professional game was an incredible experience. When we first came out of the locker room for the first period of our sold-out home opener it was completely surreal. The entire rink was packed and the environment was electrifying.
There were several hundreds of young hockey girls screaming at the top of their lungs. This was a historical moment in women’s hockey. Young players could now see a limitless future in their hockey careers and you could see this realization and excitement in all of their faces.”
Taking into account Laden’s remarkable talents, the future of the Whale could see these enthusiastic young players growing up to call her a teammate. Having played NCAA hockey with the Quinnipiac Bobcats in Hamden, Connecticut, goaltending is definitely in her blood as her father Rob was a goaltender with Bethel College. Just 23 years of age, she brings tremendous potential for a bright future in US women’s hockey, one that has also seen her part of the US Women’s National Team Goaltending Camp.
Raised in the hockey-mad state of Minnesota, Laden established her status as an elite backstop during her high school years there, serving as a two-time captain for Lakeville South, while earning honors such as Homecoming Queen and the Athena Award. As a side note, fellow Lakeville South alumnus (and Quinnipiac teammate) Morgan Fritz-Ward is a member of the New York Riveters.
Of note, Laden’s senior season with the Bobcats represented a landmark moment in program history, as the Bobcats qualified for its first-ever NCAA tournament. The legacy of that proud Bobcats team continues with the Whale as she is joined by the likes of Kelly Babstock (the first Canadian to score a goal in the NWHL) and Shiann Darkangelo.
A multiple All-Academic honoree with the Bobcats, she also established herself as a workhorse goaltender, making 33 starts in her junior season, tirelessly contributing to the team’s success. Statistically, she may have been the best all-around goalie during the 2013-14 NCAA season.
In her senior season (2014-15), she was even more impressive, compiling a program record 1.19 goals against average, a superlative .930 save percentage, 25 wins (tying Victoria VIgilanti’s single-season mark with the program) and a remarkable 16 shutouts, one short of the single-season record of 17 set by Noora Raty.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Laden’s career with Quinnipiac is her heart of gold, which saw her volunteer at Yale’s New Haven hospital. Also a certified Personal Care Assistant, Laden has worked with fragile children, resulting in personally rewarding work. For her efforts, she was recognized by ECAC Hockey with two very prestigious awards in 2015; the Sarah Devens Memorial Award and the Mandi Schwartz Student-Athlete of the Year Award.
The result is a love affair with the state of Connecticut, establishing it as her second home. Enhancing such a joyous time in her accomplished young life is the fact that she can extend her hockey legacy as a member of the Whale, while helping to forge an empowering new chapter in women’s hockey.
“I fell in love with Connecticut when I attended Quinnipiac University. I was able to build really strong and true friendships with several hockey supporters during my collegiate years.
This loyal community was one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to continue to play in Connecticut and they have already shown significant support for me and my team at the professional level. With all of the love, encouragement, and support I have gotten here, it has officially become my second home and I am truly honored and blessed to play here.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Rob Rasmussen